East Liverpool residents get a glimpse into the past

The date was Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 which got its enigmatic start in early June, 2017, when Frank Dawson received a call from Wil Haygood, a writer for the Washington Post (The Butler and Show Down — The Thurgood Marshall story).

Wil was in the process of writing a book about Columbus East High School who won the state basketball title in 1968 and, again in 1969 when it also defeated East Liverpool for the Ohio High School baseball championship.

Haygood asked if I were familiar with the story. The answer was: “Yes, I was at the championship baseball game with my wife Gretchen, along with our daughters, Belinda and CeCe and five-month old son Dike Dawson.”

Columbus East had defeated Cleveland St. Joe on May 30 while East Liverpool beat Miamisburg in the other semifinal game. The championship was set for Saturday, May 31, 1969 which was, at that time, Memorial Day prior to the government’s moving the holiday to the last Monday in May.

East used their star pitcher, Ed Ratleff, (who would go on to play basketball at Long Beach State, then the NBA), in their Friday victory. East Liverpool coach Jim Potts used Bill Montgomery on the mound, holding back his ace Jim Musuraca (future ND linebacker) for a predicted championship game. For East, in the championship game, it would be an undersized junk ball pitcher Norris Smith.

It looked like a shoo-in for the Potters, but Smith threw knuckle balls, sinkers and change-ups to put away the Blue and White 2-1.

Frank Dawson and current East Liverpool quarterback Peyton Reed later went to the East Liverpool Carnegie Library and garnered minimal clippings for Haygood despite the fact that the editor of the East Liverpool Review Glenn Waight failed to send a reporter to the game. The reason is unclear, but according to the former Review sports editor Bob Duffy, Waight blamed it on budget constraints. Other observers felt that Waight’s aversion for EL athletic director Bob McNea gave him an opportunity to disallow the trip.

Several locals including Jim Musuraca, Emory Brewer, Dan Stanley, Dan Cunningham, Earl Diddle and Joe Henderson recalled the 1968/1969 Columbus East basketball team coming to the Memorial Auditorium when the initial 10 of their team (including Ratleff) dunked the ball during warm-ups leaving a height challenged youngster for last. No problem, the kid easily went above the rim and the Potters had lost the game before it had even started. Final score 63-37.

On Jun 15, 2017, at 5:21 p.m., Wil Haygood wrote: “Mr. Dawson, Great to chat. And I love that you do what you do: preserving history. It’s a sacred mission. Appreciate you tracking down articles about that East High-East Liverpool 1969 game”. Best, Wil

On February 4, 2018 Wil wrote FCD: “On September 23, 2018 at Bexley High School there will be an event to celebrate publication of my book about East High & 1969. East Liverpool is mentioned prominently in book. So are you.

“Hope you and friends can make it! Invitations will be coming this summer. If you can, bring many folks it would be great. Maybe Liverpool’s current baseball team can come! There is a whole section in the book about the East High-Liverpool game. The Liverpool players/community will be proud to see themselves memorialized in the book. Tell the current Liverpool AD about it. It’ll be a special afternoon in Columbus” –Best Wil

With no clue as to how much interest we would have for the trip, we acquired a dozen tickets and issued a press release about the event encouraging fans to pick them up at the Lou Holtz Upper Ohio Valley Hall of Fame.

Projecting a dozen or so individuals who would be interested, we procured a luxury van and ordered box lunches from our local delicatessen.

As it turned out, we were close on the numbers with only Gretchen and me coming up short, no problem, the superintendent of the Bexley School System turned out to be Kim Pietsch Miller from East Liverpool. She took good care of us, and even hooked us up with Wil Haygood in a back stage area.

A two-time Pulitzer nominee, he was not what I expected — a person with a certain shyness and not tremendously organized especially when he wrote some information on a brown paper bag, but he was entertaining on the platform, and true to his word paid homage to East Liverpool.

In addition to Wil Haygood, the group was pleased to meet Paul Pennell, baseball coach of Columbus East High School in 1969, and Garnett Davis, a member their state championship team. Pennell reluctantly came up with a confession that all 10 members of the 1968/1969 East basketball team could not dunk the ball during warm ups. As an assistant coach on the team, he should have known, “We rotated”, the affable coach admitted. “It was a trick, only six of the players could dunk.” Trick or no trick in 1969, there weren’t six other players in the state that could match the talent the Tigers possessed then or any year since — the only school in the state to win both the basketball and baseball state titles in the same year.